Dear Jagdeep Dhankhar, Governor of Bengal
I felt the urgent need to write this letter. Your twitter shows you have sent over 78 tweets, several of them attacking the elected Chief Minister of West Bengal, Ms. Mamata Banerjee personally, the Trinamool Congress, the Chief Secretary and other top bureaucrats of the State. 45 tweets were shot off since 2nd May 2021 after TMC’s spectacular victory in the assembly elections.
You are an eminent lawyer of the Supreme Court, and if I am not mistaken you were in active practice when the landmark 9 judge decision of S.R. Bommai v. Union of India was pronounced by our Supreme Court. The words of K. Ramaswamy J. still resonates for the generations to come, “the key actor in the Centre-State relations is the Governor, a bridge between the Union and the State”. He did not stop there, “As a constitutional head of the State Government in times of constitutional crisis he should bring about sobriety.”
West Bengal like the rest of India, is caught up in the midst of this surging pandemic. We in India are facing catastrophic consequences to human life and to our economy. Governments in the States and at the centre are locked in a mortal combat with this pandemic. So, it is all the more jarring to our constitutional dharma that a duly elected government is made to face a barrage of assaults from the Governor, rather than being allowed to settle down to exercise the mandate they just earned.
The incidence of Governors conflicting with State governments is nothing new. But, as you know better, that was not how it was conceived to function in our Founding Document, the Constitution of India. Locking horns with a democratically elected government on a daily basis is how the opposition functions. But that is in the realm of politics. The High Constitutional functionaries like the Governor have their role defined in the Constitution. Article 159 of our Constitution quite clearly says that the Governor shall discharge his functions “to protect and defend the Constitution and the law”. You will agree that ‘defending the constitution’ inter alia means allowing a democratically elected government to govern.
Our Founding Fathers deliberately avoided election to the office of the Governor. This was to insulate the office from linguistic or regional chauvinism and most importantly political partisanship. For, as you know best, the Governor is the bridge between the Union and the State and is given the extremely sensitive role of an umpire to maintain the federal balance.
It would do well to remember what the Father of our Nation had to say on this matter. S.N. Agrawal, a Gandhian economist who was a member of the Constituent Assembly wrote to Gandhiji seeking abolition of the office of the Governor which was perceived as an anti-democratic colonial appendage. Gandhiji replied defending the retention and for good reason:
“The Governor had been given a very useful and necessary place in the scheme of the team. He would be an arbiter when there was a constitutional deadlock in the State and he would be able to play an impartial role. There would be administrative mechanism through which the constitutional crises would be resolved in the State.”
What the Mahatma was conveying was the conception of the governor as the positive centrifugal force of trust between the Centre and the State.
You would not disagree with the fact that if we are to meaningfully address this issue, we need to study the nature of the functions of a Governor. The Governor is mandated to act on the advice of his ministers so clearly brought out in Article 163. There is a fundamental logic to the governor going by the advice of his Council of ministers. That logic, which is central to our democracy, is contained in article 164 (2) which makes the Council of Ministers to be collectively responsible to the Legislative Assembly of the State. The Governor in stark contrast is not accountable to the Assembly which explains his marginal role in the governance of the State.
That brings me to that spectacular judgment of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka in Rajavarothiam Sampanthan v. Attorney General. I will place a few essential facts. President Maithripala Sirisena of Sri Lanka did what Presidents with an exaggerated sense of power, normally do. The President, dismissed the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, the leader of the United National Party (UNP) which enjoyed the majority in the house. He appointed minority leader Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister.
What is relevant to our discussion is that Supreme Court of Sri Lanka declared that the President was a creature of the Constitution and his powers are “circumscribed by the provisions of the Constitution”. Most importantly, it clarified a tenet, central to any democracy that ‘sovereignty of the people was the grundnorm’. The object of the Constitution was “giving tangible and effective meaning to the sovereignty of the people’.
‘Giving tangible and effective meaning to the Sovereignty of the people’, Hon’ble Governor, is central to our constitutional democracy as well, and that is, allowing Ms. Mamata Banerjee and her government to function in accordance with the mandate given by the people.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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